Three years after an earthquake killed hundreds of thousands and the U.S. promised that Haiti would "build back better," hunger is worse than ever. Despite billions of dollars from around the world pledged toward rebuilding efforts, the country's food problems underscore just how vulnerable its 10 million people remain.
In 1997 some 1.2 million Haitians didn't have enough food to eat. A decade later the number had more than doubled. Today, that figure is 6.7 million, or a staggering 67 percent of the population that goes without food some days, can't afford a balanced diet or has limited access to food, according to surveys by the government's National Coordination of Food Security. As many as 1.5 million of those face malnutrition and other hunger-related problems.
"This is scandalous. This should not be," said Claude Beauboeuf, a Haitian economist and sometime consultant to relief groups. "But I'm not surprised, because some of the people in the slums eat once every two days."
Much of the crisis stems from too little rain, and then too much. A drought last year destroyed key crops, followed by flooding caused by the outer bands of Tropical Storm Isaac and Hurricane Sandy. Haiti has had similarly destructive storms over the past decade, and scientists say they expect to see more as global climate change provokes severe weather systems.
Klaus Eberwein, general director of the government's Economic and Social Assistance Fund, said: "We are really trying our best. It's not like we're sitting here and not working on it. We have limited resources."
He attributed Haiti's current hunger woes to "decades of bad political decisions" and, more recently, to last year's storms and drought.
"Hunger is not new in Haiti," Eberwein said. "You can't address the hunger situation in one year, two years."
In the village of Mabriole, Marie Jean, a 33-year-old mother of six, looked helpless as her naked son Dieufort sat cross-legged in the dirt, a metal spoon in hand that was more toy than tool.
The 5-year-old boy barely looked 3, his gaze unfocused and glassy eyes lifeless. His stomach was distended.
Jean said she lost 10 goats and several chickens to Isaac. The goats could have sold for about $17 apiece, the poultry for about $2.80. She could have used the animals for food or the money to hold her over until the new harvest season.
"You depend on this, because it's all you have," Jean said.